The Best Free Tools For Making A Social Monitoring Dashboard

Posted on April 14, 2011

What Are You Looking For?

The Best Free Tools For Making A Social Monitoring Dashboard

By Steve Farnsworth (@Steveology)

I had a chance to meet Ada Chen Rekhi the other night at a social media event in SF. She is a super bright marketing strategist who consults to start-ups and gaming companies.

I have a list of search resources for keeping tabs on your brand (20 Free Social Media Monitoring Tools to Find Your Brand’s Social Mentions) on this blog. After taking a look at it she had the sheer audacity to ask me via the comments:

“I’m a big fan of Google Alerts myself but didn’t realize there were so many tools out there. I noticed you don’t really weigh in on which one is easiest / best to use out of the list. What would you recommend?”

Good Question

Well played, Ada. Okay, it’s a fair question. I’ll grant her that, and this is one I regularly get. So, I will answer it here. Are you happy with yourself now, Ada?

The reason I hadn’t rated them before is they are not Apples to Apples. Depending on what your monitoring need is, different ones work better than others. So, there is not a way to rate them against each other per se. However, I can do the next best thing: tell you what I use most.

I don’t have the time or patients to go to multiple search websites, re-type in my search, and wait for results everyday. So, I only use Persistent Searches, a search that is always looking for new results, and then delivers those results, via RSS feeds, to my RSS Reader as they happen. That saves me time, and makes my life a lot easier. Fundamentally, any of those search sites that send you results via an RSS feed is a Persistent Search.

Don’t Send Results To Your Email

You can get those results sent to you by email, but that is just a bad idea. Your mailbox will clutter quickly. Instead, use a RSS Reader. It’s like the dashboard you use for reading and managing emails, but design for RSS feeds.

Quick Tip: Don’t Read Everything

If you need to track a brand or a person, like yourself, you are pretty much stuck reading every result. However, if you are getting blog post to learn about or to keep up on your industry, just read the a few posts a day, and choose those by the headline. If the writer can’t write a headline, It’s unlikely their post will be anymore concise or focused. That’s where an RSS Reader comes in handy. It lets you quickly scan headlines for the most interesting titles, and you can delete the others.

An Easy To Use RSS Reader

The RSS Reader I use is Google Reader. Not the best, but because I have so many RSS feeds coming in that other RSS Readers often crash. In the past I have used Feedly, FeedDemon, and Omea Reader, but not anymore. If you need RSS Reader options, here is a source for you 15 Best Free RSS Readers for Windows and What’s the best RSS reader for the Mac?.


If your business relies on social media or digital marketing as a key part of your marketing strategy, cowboy/cowgirl up and buy a real social listening tool. This solution is quick and dirty at best. Convenient for small projects.

PROS: It’s free.

CONS: It duplicates lots of results, has mountains of noise to signal, constantly misses important hits, and has absolutely no analytics of any value. You have been warned!

My Go Tos

That said, here is what I most often use:

* Google Alerts

* Bing

* Yahoo News

* Social Media Firehose (Yahoo Pipes)

On A Case By Case Basis I Might Also Use

* Twitter Advanced Search (Only if Twitter is important to the project, because this search returns a lot of noise to signal.)

* BoardTracker For keeping an eye on message boards.

A Major Short Coming

Now, there is a major gap here and that is Blog Comments. In the past you could manually use Backtype. However, they seem to have changed their model to be more of a paid general social analytics tool. If you have a great free solution for creating a persistent search to track blog comments, and that has an RSS feed of its results, then please share in the comments below.

Honorable Mention

Social Mention has very strong support from its users. Since its RSS feed never works for me, I don’t use it. However, it does have an email alert option if you want to use that.

Good luck, and if you want to use Google Reader as a social listening dashboard, here is a DIY SlideShare that shows you just that: How To Build A Free Quick And Dirty Monitoring Tool For Learning, Listening, Or Tracking Anything.

Have A Question?

Have a question about your social communications or marketing? Ask me here in the comments, and I’ll do my best to get you an answer.